Re-framing Rest

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Rest is something we have to enter into—it is not accidental, it requires action.*

Those words popped up in my inbox yesterday.

I am still on sabbatical, both from work and Instagram, and “rest” is what I am supposed to be doing. Resting, recharging, whatever you want to call it. 

I’m not good at rest. 

I am good at lots of other things. I am good at keeping my inbox under 25 e-mails at all times, which should probably tell you about other things I’m good at as well. I’m good at communicating, responding in a timely fashion, being dependable and reliable to friends and peers and strangers alike. I am good at answering questions (so many questions!) and good at checking things off a to-do list. 

I have other skills, too. 

I am good at keeping the house clean, keeping the closets organized, signing permission slips, making sure the boys have shoes that fit. I am good at gift gifting and house decorating and friendship maintaining. I am particularly good at bookshelf styling. 

Generally speaking, I am good at doing things. Moving my hands, my arms, like a half-robot half-ballerina superhero of sorts—like a mother—gliding through life seeing what needs to be done and doing it without hesitation.

Brett and I have this running joke about his inability to find things in the fridge. It goes like this:

Brett opens the fridge, looking for a jar of pickles. With one hand on the fridge door and his other hand who-knows-where (seriously, where? where is his other hand?), he says out loud, to me, “Do we have any pickles?” 

He glances up and down, with his eyeballs only, and determines, because he cannot see them, that we are out of pickles. 

What follows next is one of two options:

  1. I walk to the fridge, and, using my hands, slide a few jars around in the door, retrieving said nonexistent pickles, 

Or, 

2. I ask him in a condescending tone, after sighing loudly, “Did you look with your hands?”

Before you nod or laugh or join me in this commiseration, please know I have plenty of annoying habits, too. Just ask my husband; he’ll provide a list. For example—I love to open carbonated drinks, take four sips, and then leave the can sitting out for five hours, rendering it flat and useless until someone pours its entirety into the sink. 

(You can say it. I’m a monster.) 

(I can’t remember why I was telling you all this?)

(Oh, that’s right. I’m good at doing things, with the exception of drinking a full La Croix in one sitting.)

To put it simply, I am a person who would search a refrigerator from top to bottom before I ever asked someone what was inside, even if it took me ten minutes to find whatever I was looking for. 

My husband would, of course, argue it is far more efficient to ask the person who knows the contents of the fridge than waste ten minutes looking yourself, and that is where I would bring up the inequality of mental labor in our home and blah blah blah, this is what marriage therapists are for.

Anyway. 

I struggle to rest because I find a great deal of worth and identity in my accomplishments. When I am not accomplishing things—whether that’s publishing an essay or folding a load of laundry—I start to feel as though I am wasting away. Wasting time. Wasting my life. Wasting my everything. 

I feel best when I am doing something.

And while I know in my heart of hearts I am worthy of love even if I sit on the couch for three consecutive hours, the truth is: I feel more worthy of love when I am doing something

I am actively working against this notion, all of the time. I have to remind myself, constantly: God still loves me when I sit on the couch. My husband still loves me when there are dishes in the sink. My children still love me when their lunch hasn’t been made. My friends still love me when I haven’t responded to their texts. My readers still love me (like me? “love” feels presumptuous here) when I haven’t written anything in months. 

I do not have to be in constant motion with a trail of checked boxes behind me in order to be loved. 

Out of desperation to embrace this truth and in an effort to not become a drill sergeant of my own sabbatical, I took the opposite approach.

I have been passive. Idle. Unassertive. 

It’s almost as if I’ve been waiting for rest to happen to me. As if I could just say, “I’m going to rest for a month!” and it would naturally occur, a happy coincidence.

The more I think about that, the more ridiculous it seems. 

You cannot just say, I want to be healthier! and expect tangible results. You cannot claim a desire to be more hospitable, more brave, more of anything without a plan in place. You cannot just say, “We are working on our marriage!” and sit back and wait for things to improve. Working on your marriage could involve a lot of things. Honest communication. Date nights. Therapy. Intimacy. All of the above.

I cannot announce, “I am on sabbatical!” and expect rest to find me.

I have to enter into it. Willingly. With a plan. 

It is day 16 and I can feel myself getting fidgety. I haven’t “accomplished” much this month. I found myself reading in the backyard yesterday while the baby napped, feeling oddly guilty about the unfolded laundry waiting for me inside. And here’s the truth: I hate that I feel this way. I hate that I think about laundry while I’m reading a book. I hate that I think about responding to e-mails while I watch TV. I hate that anytime I am (allegedly) relaxing, I feel a twinge of discomfort, as if I am doing something wrong.

So today, I sat down and made a list. I didn’t overthink it or overanalyze it. I just sat down and made a list of things I want to do this month, all in the name of rest. I want to think of rest as active, not passive—as something I do, not something that magically happens to me if I sit still long enough.

Some of these I’ve already done and some I still want to do. Some feel indulgent; some feel practical. But all of them feel … proactive. This isn’t about finishing a list, or becoming the best person who has ever rested, or getting an A+ on my sabbatical. It’s simply about being intentional with this gift, and stewarding the time well.

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Having a plan helps. And I’m not gonna lie—the check marks still feel good.  


*From Hannah Brencher.

P.s. I’m not a freak. “Go to the dentist” has been on my to-do list for 6+ months and as soon as I go, I can erase it from my brain. More space in my brain = more space to rest. Or, probably, more space to keep a log of everything in the fridge.

P.s.s. I love you, Brett. Thanks for approving this blog post. You can have the rest of my La Croix.

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Ashlee Gadd

Ashlee Gadd is a wife, mother, writer and photographer from Sacramento, California. When she’s not dancing in the kitchen with her two boys, Ashlee loves curling up with a good book, lounging in the sunshine, and making friends on the Internet. She loves writing about everything from motherhood and marriage to friendship and faith.